What is Quality Assurance?
Quality assurance (QA) is a systematic approach utilized by various industries to make sure that pre-determined quality requirements are met and fulfilled. It is composed of principles, methods, protocols, and procedures established and maintained by a company to ensure that the quality of its products and services is consistently high and compliant with organizational and regulatory standards. QA assists workers in meeting quality objectives for each product or service rendered.
What is Quality Control?
Quality control (QC) is a methodical procedure used to ensure that a product or service meets specified requirements and standards. It involves systematic actions and measures to verify that a product or service being developed meets a business’s predefined criteria for quality.
Quality Assurance vs Quality Control
Whereas quality assurance is focused on the processes involved in producing the output, quality control (QC) is more on the inspection of the quality of the products. This is performed by evaluating if they pass specific quality standards before being shipped out to customers.
Defined simply, quality control is the process where businesses validate that products or services not at par with the ideal quality won’t be marketed, thus, protecting their brand from potential negative impact.
As both parts of the bigger umbrella of quality management, QC aims to catch deficiencies in quality while QA aims to prevent those deficiencies from even occurring.
Good quality assurance and quality control are two of the most important elements of a successful operation in various industries such as manufacturing and engineering. Achieving, ensuring, and maintaining the quality of your goods and services are paramount to making your customers happy and keep them coming back.
“Quality is everyone’s responsibility.” – W. Edwards Deming, engineer, statistician, professor, and author
Why is QA Important?
Products and services of good quality create demand, meeting demand generates profit, and profit is used to create supply and meet demand. This is the cycle of success which starts when a company achieves, ensures, and maintains good quality through quality assurance.
Why is QC Important?
People have varying ideas on what quality is supposed to be. Yet, in the context of products and services they pay for, the work they provide, and the life they aim to live, each person desires and strives for good quality. Though people can be frugal when they want to be, most are willing to pay more for products and services they judge to be of good quality. This is the reason why successful companies go to great lengths and spend considerable amounts of time, money, and resources on quality, as well as experimental design.
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This section contains a brief overview of the history of quality assurance and quality control as well as a beginner’s introduction to the common ISO standards in use today.
Guilds: The Early Pioneers of Quality
In the middle ages, manufacturing and commerce enjoyed a period of growth that helped artisans gain prominence as valued craftsmen. Guilds became an important factor in this period’s product and service quality, similar to today’s ISO.
A guild is an association by the workers, for the workers. Typically, each territory would have their own merchant guild (sellers of goods and services) and craft guild (blacksmiths, masons, bakers, haberdashers, and other workers that serve the essentials of daily living).
Guilds screened applicants and shouldered the apprenticeship costs of new members. Aside from training guild members in the industry’s best practices, guilds also performed inspections to ensure that the products and services of their members complied with the accepted standards of the time.
How the Industrial Revolution Shaped Quality
The next significant period in the development of QA and QC was the First Industrial Revolution. According to Prof. Christoph Roser, it began in 1715, when Englishman John Lombe went to Italy to copy an Italian design for a mechanized silk loom. In subsequent years, division of labor was put into practice. This made the entire production process more efficient and improved quality assurance because it allowed workers and machines to focus on a single task.
In the early 19th century, Americans Frederick Winslow Taylor and Henry Ford advocated industrial efficiency, with the latter becoming famous for developing the assembly line as a method of mass production.
What is ISO and Why is it Important?
ISO is the International Organization for Standardization, with a current membership of 165 countries or national standards bodies. It is the world’s leading authority and regulatory body for safety and quality standards in manufacturing and service.
What are ISO Standards?
ISO standards are specific criteria set by ISO to cover different aspects of business and manufacturing operations. To earn a coveted ISO standard certification, a company has to request and pass a third-party ISO audit performed by a national or regional certification body.
Aside from boosting your company’s trustworthiness in the eyes of clients and consumers, having an ISO standard certification also gives you an advantage over your competitors who have not yet acquired theirs.
Common ISO Standards
To date, ISO boasts almost 22,000 standards and certifications covering a wide variety of operational aspects. Below are some of the most common standards companies strive for:
ISO 9001:2015 – Quality Management Standard
Last updated in 2015, ISO 9001:2015 specifies the requirements for a company’s QMS (Quality Management System). It aims to assess an operation’s ability to consistently deliver high-quality products and services while meeting customer expectations and relevant statutory and regulatory requirements.
ISO 22000 – Food Safety Standard
ISO 22000 provides requirements for developing and implementing a Food Safety Management System (FSMS). This certification is a must-have for companies in the food processing and food service industries.
ISO 27001 – Information Security Standard
Another popular ISO standard, ISO 27001 is concerned with a company’s ability to implement an effective Information Security Management System (ISMS) in order to keep confidential business information safe from unauthorized access.
ISO 31000 – Risk Management Standard
The ISO 31000 certification sets the standard for frameworking, designing, implementing, and maintaining a risk management system on a company-wide level.
ISO 45001:2018 – Workplace Safety Standard
Last updated in 2018, ISO 45001 sets the international standard for Occupational Health & Safety (OH&S) Management Systems. Failure to comply can lead to incidents, cost overruns, and even lawsuits.
To come up with a great product or service, management can’t just sit back and let the business take care of itself. A truly successful and sustainable operation has an effective QA/QC strategy to keep product and service quality consistently high across all stores, branches, and service centers. Here are some general prerequisites to establish and execute quality control procedures efficiently:
Build a Dedicated Quality Team
Having a dedicated QA/QC Team composed of personnel with the proper credentials should be a priority. Even in start-ups, where funding is limited and time-frames are shorter, a good quality team can help your operation meet or even exceed performance goals.
Before creating a team, consider the employee’s knowledge of your specific product/service along with prior experience in the same industry before they joined your company.
Often, top performers are screened for the QA role because they have a good understanding of what makes the product/service work and what the customers want, so that supply and demand are reconciled. Being a top performer is also a good indication of an individual’s diligence towards their work, something the quality team is expected to exercise at all times.
Define Your Performance Goal
It may sound like a no-brainer, but plenty of quality teams, especially when starting out without a tested template to follow, make the elementary mistake of not clearly defining what success means for their product or service.
Quality teams must consider the current performance of their product and/or service, define a SMART goal, and then strive to eliminate all of the processes, steps, and obstacles that do not contribute to the achievement of said goal.
Choose the Best Method
Aside from the ones mentioned previously in the article, there are many other quality assurance and quality control methods available today. While Six Sigma, Lean, and Kaizen offer generally applicable procedures for improving overall quality, using the right tools to implement these methods increases their effectiveness.
A high standard for quality assurance and quality control makes all the difference between established global brands and struggling businesses. The entire organization, from top management to frontline workers, must be dedicated in creating a culture of quality and safety for all members to do their best work.
Quality control procedures ensure that manufactured products conform to predetermined quality criteria or meet customer requirements. Improving quality control is vital for the continued success of any business in manufacturing and production. Consistently delivering high-quality products through processes that are at par with industry standards and looking out for ways to further improve quality control can help your business stay on top.
Step 1: Engage all staff
Involve all employees and gain their buy-in and commitment to adhere to the organization’s quality standards and processes. Conduct onboarding for new hires and refresher training for tenured employees to help them understand that maintaining the quality of products and services is everyone’s responsibility, not only of leadership or the quality management team.
Step 2: Be proactive
Reinforce quality control procedures through regular quality checks and immediately address nonconformance discovered during internal audits. Discuss improvement opportunities during quality control procedures trainings. Implement production planning and control or production control techniques to further strengthen the quality control procedures. Keep employees up-to-date on new processes and encourage them to share best practices and provide suggestions on how to further improve quality.
Step 3: Automate recordkeeping
Documentation of quality control monitoring is not only required in maintaining quality and safety standards but is also a resource for continuous quality improvement. Conventional paper-based recordkeeping methods can be cumbersome and time-consuming, preventing some auditors from regularly documenting internal checks. Utilize automated digital recordkeeping to save time and ensure that internal checks are consistently recorded.
Step 4: Seek improvement opportunities
Conduct customer surveys, review incident reports, learn from past mistakes in your organization and others in the business, stay up-to-date with industry best practices, and be on the lookout for new technology that can help improve processes and implementation of quality standards in your organization.
Step 5: Utilize technology
Save time and maximize resources for quality control by using new technology such as sensors that automate monitoring of quality parameters and mobile auditing tools to record and analyze information that paper audit forms cannot capture.
“Quality is everyone’s responsibility,” claimed the renowned engineer, professor, and management consultant W. Edwards Deming. Quality assurance, however, is a continuous process. A process that becomes harder to complete when the complexities of large-scale production and servicing are introduced. In order to stay true to a company’s promise of quality, something as simple as an effective QA inspection checklist can be the X factor.
Below are the principles QA inspection checklists must follow in order to become effective:
1. It must consider input from different stakeholders
Creating a product or rendering a service is a step-by-step process. Often, each step is handled by a dedicated department specializing in that section. For this reason, acquiring input from the different experts that are actually involved in the process is important since it informs your QA inspection checklist with data and insights founded on solid bases.
2. It must be uniform for all sites and branches
A good QA inspection checklist informed by the expertise and insights from relevant stakeholders is only as good as its effective implementation. To keep quality output consistent throughout the entire organization, quality assurance officers must ensure that the same QA inspection checklist is being used by all sites and branches. This minimizes product quality variation between manufacturing sites and locations.
3. It must be updated regularly and whenever necessary
The processes and standards of operations evolve due to numerous factors over time. Since a QA inspection checklist serves as one of the final checkpoints before a product or service is deemed fit for delivery, organizations must ensure that the standards enforced by their QA inspection checklist is consistent with their current quality standards.
Budgets, preferences, and laws all influence a company’s decision to favor one type of QA practice over the other. Some companies even choose to employ a hybrid of internal and external QA practices to achieve and maintain compliance with quality standards. Regardless of your QA method of choice, each has its own pros and cons.
Pros and Cons of Internal QA Inspections
|No need to hire external consultants and auditors so the company saves money.
|The data collected may be biased and may be used to cover up employee negligence and other malicious activities.
|Since actual employees of the company are performing the audit, they are sure to have good context and proper understanding as to what quality looks like for the business.
|Management may end up becoming too lenient when it comes to enforcing recommended changes since there is no external pressure to do so.
|The internal audit department can verify the accuracy of inspection reports faster since data is available in-house.
|Internal QA inspectors may become more and more complacent over time as they start treating the practice like a chore.
Pros and Cons of External QA Inspections
|Third-party quality inspectors bring additional experience and knowledge built from conduction quality inspections for several different companies
|Hiring a third-party quality inspector to conduct QA audits can be expensive.
|Third-party quality inspectors can provide an unbiased and objective assessment report; something that may be an issue when with in-house quality inspectors.
|While the perspective of a third-party auditor may be valued due to its perceived objectivity, their QA inspection may end up becoming ineffective if they lack the specialized knowledge required to understand and properly assess a specific product/service.
|Having a third-party inspector conduct audits allows workers to focus on their regular day-to-day tasks.
|The queries and demands of external auditors may require employees to work extra hours and accomplish additional tasks which contributes to workplace stress.
FAQs about Quality Assurance and Quality Control
In the context of quality management, QA comes first because it involves establishing processes and systems to prevent defects from occurring, while QC comes after to detect and correct defects that may have occurred despite the QA efforts.
A quality plan is a collection of documents or a comprehensive document that specifies quality standards to be met, provides processes to be followed, and identifies resources needed to produce an output that meets customer specifications. With quality assurance, quality control, and quality management as its elements, a quality plan also helps ensure that the product or services align with organizational goals and objectives.
Built by a project team and usually based on PDCA technique, a quality assurance plan is a document that provides a guideline with the intent to produce products or services that meet customer requirements and expectations.
A QCP is a document that provides processes and defines milestones in production where products or services are to be inspected to ensure that they are meeting specifications.
Whether QAP or QCP, both quality plans follow a process that aims to achieve the highest quality possible. Here is an example of a quality plan template that is universally recognized: ISO 9001:2015 quality plan template.
While both aim to catch deficiencies in quality, QAP intends to lay down processes aiming to produce output that performs as expected while QCP aims to catch deficiencies in output usually through inspections.
- QAP intends to prevent defects in output.
- QCP catches defects in output.
Quality management involves the comprehensive planning, execution, and monitoring of processes to ensure that products or services meet predefined standards. It encompasses quality assurance, which specifically focuses on preventing defects by establishing systematic processes and guidelines.